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‘But where is your home?’: Mayu Kanamori reflects on working with CEDT certificates

By Mayu Kanamori (artist, born in Tokyo and based in Sydney)

If I answer that terribly limiting question, Where do you come from? I was born in Tokyo, but I live in Sydney now, another question usually follows: But where is your home? This second question assumes that there can only be one home, and that our identities are defined by affiliation to one sacred location. My home is where my loved ones are, and so my home exists in more than one place, I answer.

Before the governments’ pandemic measures closed national borders, I was fortunate to be able to travel back and forth between Japan, where my mother, sisters, and extended family live, and Sydney, where my partner and friends live. Even allowing for travel time to and from the airport, and the long check-in for international travel, I was able to travel between these two homes in less than 14 hours. Today, including quarantine periods at both ends, travel between homes could take longer than the time it took in the days of steamships, when the Immigration Restriction Act was in force, and exemptions for passage across borders, harder to come by.

Digital artwork by Mayu Kanamori, Japanese Immigration Restriction Act, 2021

As an artist working with themes related to Japanese experiences in Australia, I have often searched the National Archives for copies of the Certificate Exempting from Dictation Test (CEDTs) to give me some insight into the life stories of our pioneering predecessors. At times these records were all I had to find out what may have happened to these people. In the case of Japanese migrants, if they had remained in Australia until the 1940s, there are also Internee Service and Casualty Forms and dossiers created by government departments before and during the war. Unlike most other documents, however, the CEDT offers a visceral understanding of a life once lived; for instance they are the only records that include photographs. A sense of connection may be felt through their subject’s timeless gaze, looking straight at the camera, which makes me feel that they are looking straight at me. Sometimes I would print the document and place my hands on their handprints.

Digital artwork by Mayu Kanamori, My Papers, 2021

Some people have multiple CEDTs on record, their photographs showing how they matured over the passing years, and at the same time, informing me that they periodically returned to their other homes, just as I had been doing prior to the pandemic. I see their mug shots, their head and shoulders, taken as if they had committed a crime, and find them looking very like my own series of passport photos over the last forty years.

Photographs, before they became pixel images on a screen, were thought as a proof of the existence of the subject. These people lived, and were photographed, perhaps with the sense of purpose and excitement which comes from making travel preparations; perhaps with a sense of resignation, much in the same way we intuit a lack of agency when we queue at the post office to have our passport photos taken; or perhaps even a sense of pride in simultaneously belonging and not-belonging to one place.

As much as the Immigration Restriction Act is criticised today, the resulting CEDTs gave passage to those who wanted to return to loved ones, both in Australia and elsewhere. Today, for artists like myself, and more especially for descendant families, the CEDTs give us a strong emotional connection to our Elders past. I am grateful to have been able to contribute in a small way to the Victorian CEDT Index, and to bring to light the records of the eight Japanese men I found, and the lives they lived and the people they loved.

Digital artwork by Mayu Kanamori, Moon Over the Immigration Restriction Act, 2021

Mayu Kanamori

Mayu Kanamori is an artist, born in Tokyo, and based in Sydney. Her works include Through A Distant Lens, a play based on the search of lost photographs taken by a Japanese Australian photographer Yasukichi Murakami (1880-1944) and You’ve Mistaken Me For A Butterfly, a performed poetry and film about a Japanese woman involved in an assault case in Western Australia during the goldrush. Mayu is a founding member of Nikkei Australia, a group which promotes research, study, arts, cultural practices and community information exchange about the Nikkei (Japanese) diaspora in Australia. She was a contributor to Nikkei Australia’s Cowra Voices and the Cowra Japanese Cemetery Online Database. Mayu helped CAFHOV check the Japanese names in the Victorian CEDT Index.

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Henry Tuckathima Nitobe and Alice Amelia King

By Anne Thorogood (Chinese Australian Family Historians of Victoria Inc)

Henry Tuckathima Nitobe was born in Yokohama around 1872. He married Alice Amelia King in 1905, and stated he was aged 33, a laundryman and the son of Toda Nitobe, a potter and Hana or Hama née Jaka. He lived in Yarra St, Geelong. The marriage took place on the 17 May at the Geelong Registry Office. The signature of one of the witnesses could be Asian but it is very hard to read.

Alice gave her surname as Winter, but on her birth certificate she was the daughter of Ellen King aged 20, father unknown, born in Collingwood in 1882, and 11 years younger than Henry. Her mother had married Daniel Winter, a career criminal in 1901. Daniel’s father, uncle, cousins and later his sons, all had extensive criminal records.

In 1908, a youth was charged for illegally pawning a diamond pin, the property of Henry Nitobe. It had been stolen by his friend and brother-in-law, Charles Winter, aged 14. Charles went on to spend most of his life in prison.

In 1908, Alice was charged with obstructing the Inspector of Factories and Shops when he came to inspect their laundry. He claimed she swore at him and tried to push him out. Alice was fined 3 pounds and costs.

CEDT for Henry Tuckathima Nitobe issued in Melbourne in 1926
[NAA: B13, 1926/29720]

In 1926 Henry, or Harry as he was known, applied for an Exemption from the Dictation Test. His certificate describes him as being 5 foot 1 inch, of medium build, olive complexion and with black hair and brown eyes. He had been in Australia for 33 years (c.1893) and had worked as a laundryman and cook. He had lived in Prahran for one year, Malvern four years, St Kilda four and a half years, Geelong seventeen and a half years Warrnambool one and a half years, as well as nine months in Finley, New South Wales. A Detective Sergeant Gleeson stated he was a hard worker and attested to his good character. His last listed address was 133 Little Malop Street, Geelong. Henry travelled from Melbourne to Sydney and returned to Japan on the Mishima Maru in December 1926. The CEDT register does not list any information about his return. No more is known of him (see the entry in the register via the Victorian CEDT Index here).

Index entry for Henry Nakashima Nitobe , 1926, Register 2, p. 110, Victorian CEDT Index, (original data taken from ‘Register of Certificates Exempting from the Dictation Test, 1915-1933’, National Archives of Australia: B6003, 2).

Page of notes related to Henry Tuckathima Nitobe’s application for a CEDT in 1926. Note details provided about the many places he lived over 30 years living in Australia.
[NAA: B13, 1926/29720]

Alice Nitobe had been put into care when younger. When she absconded from the Lang Street Home in South Yarra in 1900 aged 17, she was described in the Police Gazette as being 4 foot 10 inches, with a slight girlish build, dark hair and complexion. She had ‘a Japanese cast of features’. She had a cousin also named Alice, who was two years younger and had six siblings. She was the daughter of Wilhelmina King and Luk Ah Kim, so perhaps she also had Chinese ancestry.

After Henry left Australia, Alice went to New South Wales where her family was living. She married under a slightly different name, Alice Amelia Holden, in 1930 to Thornton Herbert Littlewood. On her marriage certificate she was described as working as a waitress, claimed not to have been married before. She died in Queensland in 1955. She had no children.

Anne Thorogood

Anne’s partner’s grandfather, Thomas Kimm, was the cousin of Henry Tuckathima Nitobe’s wife Alice. Anne uncovered Henry’s story as part of researching Alice Amelia King’s life. Using Chindex she was able to understand more about his travel and movements and locate file and CEDT certificate in the B13 series of the National Archives of Australia.


Index entry for Henry Nakashima Nitobe , 1926, Register 2, p. 110, Victorian CEDT Index, (original data taken from ‘Register of Certificates Exempting from the Dictation Test, 1915-1933’, National Archives of Australia: B6003, 2).

Certificate for Exempting from Dictation Test 1926

Victorian Births, Deaths and Marriages, Marriage certificate, Alice Amelia Winter, 1905

New South Wales Births, Deaths and Marriages, Marriage certificate, Alice Amelia Holden, 1930

Trove newspapers

Victorian Police Gazette, 1900